Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Romney's Deification of the State

Ironically, in attempting to bracket his Mormon religion off from his political life, Romney has ended up embracing the type of civic nationalism so prevalent in the Mormon church.

For example in a speech on 6 December, 2007, Romney championed what he called “America’s political religion” and vowed that as president he would acknowledge no obligation higher than the constitution and the laws of the United States. As he put it
I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law. As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America’s ‘political religion’ – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God.
What Romney failed to realize is that if there is no set of obligations higher than the laws governing a particular country, then the state essentially becomes divine. Again, to suggest or imply that a President has no obligation higher even than his oath of office is to offer up to the state a loyalty that properly belong only to God’s kingdom.

Romney has also suggested that religious differences are trivial as long as people are good patriots, as if a love for America trumps all other spiritual priorities. In his 2007 ‘Faith in America’ speech he remarked that “every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God” and he quoted Sam Adams who urged said “he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.” Moreover, he pointed to the American War for Independence as an example of how religious differences fade into insignificance next to our commitment to our country.

This is a frightening claim since it elevates our loyalty to the state above all other loyalties, including those commitments which have traditionally acted as a hedge against an all-powerful state. To suggest or imply that loyalty to America trumps and renders insignificant all other spiritual loyalties is to predicate to a nation qualities that properly only belong to God’s kingdom.

Similarly, during the GOP presidential debate in Florida, Romney said that the Declaration of Independence is a theological document establishing a covenant “between God and man.”  For someone who has gone out of his way to bracket religious truth-claims off from public life, it is interesting to see him applying theological categories to the state. However, this ceases to be so surprising when we view it through the grid of Romney’s civic nationalism, since it is the state that becomes the true object of religious devotion. In order to elevate the state to this level Romney must upgrade America’s charter documents to a spiritual status, investing them with theological significance.

If Romney were consistent with predicating quasi-divine honours to the nation state, he would have to urge us to pray to the state. Thankfully, he has not gone that far, although he has suggested that prayers derive their value, not by virtue of the object to which that prayer is directed, but by virtue of whether or not the supplicant has a love for America. Indeed, he believes that the prayers of all faith traditions are valuable provided they come from true patriots.

Don’t get me wrong. Romney is a good patriot and that is refreshing after four years of a President who, as Dinesh D’Souza has convincingly shown, does not even love America. But Romney’s love for America goes far beyond the bounds of patriotism. His book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness describes the United States in Messianic terms, saying that she is not only “the greatest nation on earth” but also “the hope of the world.” Once again, the only way it is possible to make America the hope of the world is if we have given the nation a role and responsibility that properly only belongs to the kingdom of God.

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